Which side of the mirror are you on?

Early Politics (1988) by Dorothea Tanning

Waking life is the dream. Touch these liquid walls and see for yourself. You say this is reality but my words are dripping off your face like sweat. You live in your own dimension. Remember when I asked for exactly what I wanted and you gave me the opposite and pretended that was normal? You’ve been doing that for years now. Somehow when I notice this, I’m the crazy one. Sure, you make friendlier noises than I do. You’re the diplomat. But who’s actually here?

I’ll forgive you like I always do, but let’s admit we’re through the looking glass. In your native tribe, anyone who wants something is greeted as an invasive species. A simple request is encountered as an insult. An invited guest becomes a Jehovah’s Witness on the doorstep, knocking fruitlessly. A reunion provides an opportunity to go missing for months. “Avoidant” doesn’t quite capture it. “Vacant” maybe, but with a NO VACANCY sign out front.

I love you the most but you’re the absolute worst. At least in my dreams I can escape you, find a high school with some impossible math class I’ve been skipping all semester, find a bathroom with an inch of water on the floor and no doors on the stalls, find a lover who treats me like I’m made of liquid magic, at least for a second, at least until he turns into something else (a grizzly bear, an elaborate puzzle, a book filled with print I can’t read), lose a contact and then there it is on the floor, big and clear and floppy, the size of a frisbee. Stuff that thing into your eye. It requires a leap of faith. Doesn’t that sound like real life to you?


Everything requires a leap of faith now. This book about attachment is getting stupider as it goes. The central plot is that we’re all adorable teddy bears who should surrender to each other’s whims and desires at every turn, and any failure to do so signals dysfunction. What about the perfectly secure dudes I dumped because I disliked the broken machinery of their mediocre minds? I almost married a man whose entire personality was a sitcom with the couch in the middle of the room. Was it anxious of me to believe I could sit on that couch and listen to that laugh track until I was dead? Was it avoidant of me to finally exit those paper-thin walls in search of someone a little less scripted?

The world is too dumb for me to bear sometimes. Does that make me an avoidant asshole or a realist? I wake up in the middle of the night filled with insights on everything I read the day before. So I make tea and write about it. Does that make me smart or clinically unwell? What do you trust more, the vibrations of your cells or the masterminds who labeled homosexuality pathological for decades? Now the pope is a pragmatist who likes gay marriage and the supreme court is packed with fantasy-loving ghouls who hate it.

It’s not morally aberrant to question this waking nightmare, along with every single principle and tradition that sprang from its chaotic core. It’s not unhinged to stop in the middle of this dreamscape and proclaim it unsafe, unwell, unfit for human consumption. It’s not disordered to love and hate a person at the same time. Nothing could be more rational.

Let’s talk about it. Everyone whose mind isn’t a fake room with a fucking couch in the middle is invited. Let’s name Thursday “Zoom Day” and pour bourbon down our throats and discuss what the fuck has happened to reality lately. Nothing inside or outside these walls makes any sense. The news is a fable now: Here’s the story, now it’s been debunked, no, that’s actually true, here’s the explainer to the pundit addressing the assertions of a teenage hacker in Moscow. No, that was never true, why are you so stupid?

Waking life is the dream. A simple request for clarification is encountered as an insult. Everyone needs their own fact checker for this molten nightmare. Everyone requires their own gang of fluffers to soothe them through these solvent hours. Somebody get me off, it doesn’t matter who does the job. Give me a grizzly bear, an elaborate puzzle, a book filled with print I can’t read. Stream this dirty game of teamwork and betrayal straight into my brain stem: Who’s the imposter? Aren’t we in this together? The most stalwart dedication to reality leaves you bewildered, reaching out for gloopy, melting words, a fistful of sour milk, your face dripping off your neck.

Now retreat into the solid, practical reassurance of your dreams. No one will blame you for that. This is what they wanted all along.

I have a secure, intimate relationship with my own hallucinations, which are growing more intelligent than reality. I am the only person alive who understands what’s happening to us. I’m the only one with clear sight. In other words, I’m just like everyone else. This is how it all falls apart. Cue laugh track.

Thanks for reading these puzzles from a grizzly bear. This week’s Ask Polly is about the social media looking glass, which we also discuss here.